By now, most of us have gotten the message that a diet rich in sugar and simple carbs is the fast track to weight gain, obesity and diabetes. And along the way, many of us have also come to a basic understanding of what we should and shouldn’t be eating in order to maintain health. But there are a number of seemingly innocuous foods, some even marketed as ‘healthy,’ that dump tablespoons of sugar into the bloodstream, boosting metabolic mayhem and insulin resistance everyday, fooling millions of people. Here are a few common breakfast foods that mess with blood sugar – and how to side-step them:
1) Your morning corner-store smoothie.
These days, virtually every food chain has a ‘healthy’ fruit smoothie on the menu – even McDonald’s has entered the fray. But whether it comes from Starbucks, Jamba Juice, or the corner deli, almost any smoothie you don’t make at home is a processed, fiber-free sugar bomb with a nutritional profile not all that different from a milkshake. For example:
- a small Jamba Juice fruit smoothie will dump upwards of 30 grams of sugar into your system
- a small strawberry McDonald’s smoothie clocks in at 39 grams
- a Starbucks 16 oz. strawberry smoothie delivers 41 grams, roughly the same amount of sugar as a 3 Musketeers Bar
So if you’re thinking any of these is a health food because it’s made with fruit, you’re barking up the wrong candy cane.
The workaround: To keep your smoothie in the 7-gram range, blend your own, using a half-cup of low sugar berries or better yet, green veggies plus protein or greens powder and sweeten with stevia if needed.
2) Your grab ‘n’ go breakfast bar.
When you need a quick snack or meal replacement, you might grab a protein bar thinking it’s healthier than a candy bar – and you’d likely be wrong. Unfortunately, the majority of protein bars crowding the shelves at the gym or office vending machine are loaded with sugar, with many featuring 12 grams or more for a not-very-satisfying 1 or 2 oz. serving.
The workaround: A healthy DIY version. Elana’s Pantry’s recipe for no-bake, high-fiber Power Bars simply rocks. The other option is to buy a minimally processed bar made with organic, non-GMO ingredients, and no more than 5 grams of sugar (the fewer the better). Or you can enjoy a handful of nuts and seeds!
3) Your morning fruit fix.
A bowl of fruit can be wonderful. It can also be very, very sweet, so choose your ingredients wisely. Fruits like mangos, grapes and bananas, though they contain healthy fiber, still rank high on the glycemic scale and probably shouldn’t be in your everyday rotation, particularly if sweetness is your Achilles’ heel. Same holds true for sugar-packed dried fruit, fruit roll-ups, ‘squeezable’ fruit packs, juice boxes or fruit-based muffins or cakes. Though they’re misleadingly sold as ‘healthy,’ their high sugar content and minimal fiber make them anything but, so steer clear.
The workaround: When it comes to processed fruit, leave it on the shelf and enjoy a serving of low sugar, high-fiber berries instead. For added benefit, enjoy with some healthy fat, such as almond butter or coconut yogurt.
4) Your super-convenient, throw-in-your bag yogurt.
In theory, yogurt is a beautiful thing – it’s convenient, it’s creamy, it’s got protein and may even have some active probiotic cultures to boot. However, most of the commercial versions also have an astonishing amount of sugar, making that little morning go-to more junk food than health food, more dessert than breakfast. For example, a small, 6 oz serving of fruit-flavored Yoplait, Dannon, Stoneyfield and Activia can pack a sugar punch of 22-30 grams – which is a nutritionally lousy way to start the day.
The workaround: If you’re not into making your own, buy the lowest-sugar, organic, full-fat yogurt you can find, without sweeteners or fruit flavorings. Add your own low-sugar fruit and stevia if needed. Also, don’t be fooled by vanilla flavored yogurts – they’re often just as sugary as the fruit-flavored versions. Avoiding or sensitive to dairy? Try less irritating yogurts made with coconut, sheep or goat’s milk.
For a few truly healthy ideas on what to eat in the morning without spiking your blood sugar, check out these 6 Healthy Breakfast Ideas.